A Scratch Beneath the Surface: The Pastoral Disguise of "An Ode on a Grecian Urn" by John Keats

Essay by ICE_ManUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, April 2004

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Through John Keats masterful use of ode and pastoral forms, he is able to create a mask of beauty and happiness. The pleasant imagery, characteristic of the pastoral, paints a thin layer of life and beauty over what really is a dark and violent poem. Beneath the disguise of beauty, irony creates an aura of conflict between idealism and realism throughout the poem. What strikes chords within the reader of the mask is the wavering tone of the speaker. Though the pastoral and ode are generally the majesty and the grandeur of the physical world, Keats is able to manipulate the forms into a conduit in which he conveys the greater ideals of the metaphysical world.

Though the pastoral form is a dominant presence throughout, the ode form plays a vital role in the expression the speaker's initial feelings of the urn. To create the sense of an ode, Keats uses various tools in order to adulate the urn:

Thou still unravished bride of quietness,

Thou foster child of silence and slow time,

Sylvan historian, who canst thus express

A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme: (1-4)

Just in the first line both metaphor and connotation are powerfully used.

'Still' in the first line can be seen as either "free of sound," "without movement," or "unchanged." The importance of the connotations is that it reveals the many attitudes the speaker first feels. Art-work unlike music is a form of expression that is free of sound. It can also be perceived that the urn has been unchanged throughout the ages of its existence. The real flattery of the urn comes from the metaphors the speaker uses to describe the vast importance of the urn. The use of 'unravished bride' describes the urn's purity and still contains its timeless image of...